Monthly Archives: August 2012

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August 27, 2012 · 10:27 pm

Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum”

The story is fairly simple. Three editors, very smart bordering on genius, read esoteric material for their publisher. They read books by people they have dubbed “Diabolicals”.  These diabolicals write about secret societies over the ages. Templars, Illuminati, Rosicruscians, Masons, Neo Templars, Jesuits, everyone features in these books. There are mystical ceremonies,  initiation rites,  many unbalanced, bordering on crazy, characters. In the midst of all these magical, mystical things Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon are the only sane voices. And then they decide to have some fun with all the vast information they have gathered on all these cults over the years. And we all know how that usually turns out, just harmless fun.

For me the redeeming feature of this book was its climax. The entire story is told in flashback right before the climactic moment. The book is a tough read unless the reader has in depth knowledge of history, religion, and the cultic societies. I say tough because it isn’t that the storyline is hard to follow without this knowledge, you always know where the story is headed and it has an extremely elegant climax. But reading this book without having at least some background in mathematics, history, religion, templars etc is like walking down a path with a scenic view, in the fog. You can grope your way home but the beautiful vistas are forever lost to you. 

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Reading Egypt: “Father of Heliopolis”

“The Father of Heliopolis” is a non- fiction piece by the novelist Pauls Toutonghi about his visit to Egypt, with his father. I was so glad to read this piece because it gave all the pertinent information about the revolution in Egypt, without the impersonal tone of a news article.

They arrive in Egypt a mere two months after the revolution. The author walks us through the chaos of Egypt at the time. There are curfews & protests on every street, buildings in ruins, fear and uncertainty among the people about the future of Egypt and themselves, ‘‘Everyone has a “Plan B,”’ the consensus seemed to indicate. ‘A “Plan B” just in case.’ ‘Switzerland is nice, I’ve heard,’ said the woman to my left, a prominent Cairene gynecologist. ‘Or maybe Australia?’

But at heart this piece is about nostalgia. The Pauls’s father was born in Egypt but hasn’t been back for 65 years.

On the first day, before venturing into Egypt to begin their journey Pauls’s asks his father, ‘How do you feel?’  and his father replies, ‘I’m worried I won’t recognize anything.’ It reminded me of the way one would feel just before meeting a best friend from childhood. There is excitement but there is also fear. Doubts about how much this friend might have changed, how much you have changed over the years, will there still be that spark, that connection that made you best friends way back when.

They begin their journey with a visit to his father’s old school, where he tells the story of how he once stole cucumbers from the nuns’ garden, then the church where his grandfather sang in the choir. Then they set off on a search for their ancestral home which they find with difficulty because the neighborhood has changed so much. They find the place where the house used to be but discover that it has now been demolished to make way for new construction. His father however,  finds his connection because even though a lot has happened and many things have changed or are gone there is still the memory,  as the author puts it, “It’s gone, but now we’ve seen it, together. We’ve seen where it used to be. Now – now, I can offer this memory, to you”.

Father of Heliopolis is available on the Granta Magazine website.

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Hello world!

A few years ago I created a blog but could not muster the discipline to post as regularly as I should have. So now I am trying again and this time I have a less vague goal in mind. This will be my place to think out loud about the books that I read. This is less review and more thoughts, ideas, musings about books, in which you all are welcome to chime in.

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